Sunday, November 14, 2010

Starring as Lost Almost intake site: Donny's dilapidated ranch house

The silent movie we are making, Go South for Animal Index, is a fable of Los Alamos, the secret military site where the nucleur bomb was invented and first tested. The actual Los Alamos had an intake site (in Santa Fe, actually, rather than Los Alamos proper) where all personnel reported first and received their identification. This site was ruled by the executive assistant of Los Alamos, a woman nicknamed The Atomic Lady. She regularly burned secret documents to destroy them, an irresistible piece of stage business in a silent movie. So one sine qua non for our Lost Almost intake site is a stove where we can burn documents.

And here you have our stove. It is in a dilapidated ranch building on some property owned by the family of Donny Blake in St. Clair, Missouri. We have permission to shoot there.

Here is a bit more of the room. We will put the Atomic Lady's desk just in front of the stove, so she can turn around from her desk and burn documents. In addition to the intake scenes,we will shoot solos of The Atomic Lady here, typing documents and burning others. She also will be visited by the lonely, desperate scientist wives for a moonshine klatch here.

This is the room facing off to one side of it. We probably don't want this in our shot and will have to do something to block it off. Some filing cabinets and soldiers seem in order.

Here is the room on the other side. We want it in the shot even less. (Though we could put a bed against that wall to the right and shoot bedroom scenes here.) We will probably have to create a very limited little range of motion for our camera and actors when we shoot the intake scenes. It's not bad at all if the intake scenes have a slightly claustrophobic feel. After all, people are losing their liberty when they enter here.

Our stove from behind. I love this stove. The pipe going outside means we can't move it though.

After the stove and the bare ruined nature of the place, the next benefit is this: a good clean exit. This scene is all about our scientist characters entering a new world, and we need to shoot exits after they have been fingerprinted and officially identified. This door is so much better than the other one, so we will probably use it for entrance and exit. I am pretty sure the actual intake site at Los Alamos was like that, though we are telling a fable and fact need not be our guide.

The front of the ranch building is workable. It will be a relief to have the interior and the exterior be the same physical location. That is becoming a rarity in this production, since we need things to look bare and either period (mid-1940s) or timeless. It's hard to find exteriors and interiors, let alone in the same place.

Another look at front. We can shoot a nice long walk-along the wall if we need one.

The ranch building sits up a on hill, which makes for nice shots. Here is a look up the hill.

Another look up the hill. Other than battling the cold, for many reasons it would be better to shoot these scenes when the trees are bare. The intake scenes are at the beginning of the movie. Also at the beginning is a funeral scene. We have shot one of the scenes right after the funeral. I need to see that footage. It's an interior scene, and if there is no green in it outside the window, then I think we should shoot the intake scenes this winter when the trees are bare.

Those steps down with the railing are a big plus. We need to shoot a transition scene where the scientists, carrying hunks of the lab, and their wives, carrying luggage, move from intake to lab and lodgings. This will be great for that. 

Another limitation: we can't shoot down the steps very freely. We don't want to see that house or the lake in any Lost Almost shot. We will use the lake extensively for a completely different storyline, the People of Peace, and it is essential that these worlds - Lost Almost and the People of Peace - are distinct geographically.

Those steps end at this car port, which we will use for the nuclear physics lab (without the cars). So we can shoot pretty much in real space and time when moving from intake to lab set-up.

It will be easy to clean this space out and turn it into a mad scientist's lab.

We will be able to shoot wide without anything else in the shot but the warped world of the lab -- and have natural light from one side.

Pretty good sightlines shooting both ways, side to side, inside the shed.

We also can establish the relationship of the lab to the footpaths people will use to navigate the world of the movie. The other side of the road, though, is the house and lake and can't be in any lab shot.

Usefully, there is a stack of those wooden gates that can be used as false walls.

I love the butt ugly side of the shed / lab. We need a place for the zombie uranium couriers to drop off uranium to the nuclear lab. I pictured a nasty wall for General Graves and solider to stand against and take delivery. This will do until something better comes along.

The ranch and shed have plenty of junk lying around that will look good in our lab. Like this.

And this.

The intake scenes will be a bear to shoot. We need General Graves (Ray Brewer), Opje (Michael R. Allen), the Atomic Lady (Suzanne Roussin) for all of the intake scenes. In installments, we also would need the first lab scientist (Richard Skubish) and his family (Stefene Russell, Claire Eiler), the second lab scientist (John Eiler) and his wife (Natalie Partenheimer), the first bomb scientist (Neal Alster) and his wife (Barbara Manzara), the second bomb scientist (Paul Casey), the Feign Man scientist (Tory Z. Starbuck) and all the soldiers we can get our hands on (John Parker, Thomas Crone, Tim McAvin, Thom Fletcher).

That might have to be two days of shooting, rather than one. It would be frustrating to set up the scene and light it two separate times, but perhaps I can get the crew to shoot in St.Clar two days in a row. They have not liked the idea of shooting at our other great location in Cuba two days in a row, but St. Clair is an hour away from St. Louis rather than 90 minutes. A bit easier to accept as a day trip.

Hopefully we can block off a weekend and spend one day shooting  intake at the ranch house, and the next day shooting exits and walk-downs to the path and lab, followed by some initial lab set-up scenes.

This is tricky stuff!

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